My top 10 learnings from my first time

In a recent discussion in a conference, while I was speaking about my first venture (the one that failed), I was asked if I didn’t have any other business going on earlier.

Well, the answer is yes. Not a regular business, though, but something worth mentioning. Actually, it’s all about my very first time ! and what happened had an impact for the rest of my life…

What was the context ? I was 15, student in a high school in Nice, France (“Lycée Calmette”). I liked skiing. Close to Nice, we had two very nice ski resorts at a 2 hours driving distance (Isola 2000 and Auron). Remember, I was 15, no driving license. And almost no reliable public transportation between the city and the ski resorts at that time.

Nice-Isola2000

I started to ask around me if somebody would come with me if I found a way to do a day trip to the sky resorts at a very fair price. Soon enough, I had enough friends to fill an entire bus.

I went to a private bus company (Santa Azur) to ask for renting a bus and a driver for one day (in the weekend), and asked ski stations for group prices for ski-passes. I decided, as the organizer, that everything should be free for me.

But not everything went as scheduled…

I defined the price for all my friends who were interested, and surprise, the willingness to pay dropped to 60%: I lost few people at the time of conversion. And worse, my price calculation was not working anymore… I had to cancel the trip for this first weekend just one day before.From this first learning, I established a new price list, with a price depending on the number of people joining. You would have to prepay like if the bus was half-full (fair bet), and if more people had prepaid before the trip, I would reimburse the price difference. One third Kickstarter, one third Groupon, one third Blablacar… And I asked my friends to market a bit the opportunity such has we could even overbook.

bus-nice-isolaWe filled 2 complete buses at this second attempt. It has been such a fun day that 2 weeks later, I filled 3 buses. And we started to expand in another nearby high-school (“Lycée Massena”). I said “we”, since I had “hired” a relay to market the trips in this nearby high-school and two other friends to help me in registrations and cash collection.

We are now at 5 buses for the 2 high-schools. We even have teachers joining us, they want also to ski at a fair price… I stopped scaling up, because everything was completely manual, and a nightmare to sync-up. At that time, we had no mobile phones, no IM, no internet and no communication tools beyond a regular phone line and low-tech Roneo duplicated “advertisements”…

Would you trust this guy ?

Would you trust this guy ?

I ran those winter ski-trip operations for 3 years, going to ski for free with a happy bunch of friends… I even have had some “competition” coming up from the other high school, but managed to kill it using a very unfair advantage: my high school was dedicated to girls 20 years ago, and I made everyone believe we had a higher percentage of girls in our ski trips. Guess what, it just worked. Growth hacking before you could name it…

What have been the top 10 learnings from my first time in an entrepreneurial setup?

  • conversion is really defined when people have to actually pay (I lost 40% of people between the initial intention and the payment)
  • solving a real problem makes things happening (low-cost ski trips and convenience of my organization for my friends)
  • succeeding at the first attempt is rare (I had to cancel the first trip)
  • learning and pivoting is not that difficult (second tuned attempt succeeded)
  • building a team with the right members is critical to success (alone wouldn’t have worked)
  • non-automated processes have limits (I couldn’t scale up any more, even with a team)
  • even in a low-tech environment, you can experiment, just do it! (it’s lean, fast and costs almost nothing)
  • my risk limits were dangerously unknown (the trips were without any insurance, no adult supervision !!!)
  • since I was the one to act and organize, I got pocket money beyond my expectations (free ride, free ski-pass, free rental of ski gear, free lunch and a bit more than change)
  • good ideas get replicated quickly by others and soon enough you become a target (I’m a moving target, good for me…)

No wonder why I did something else once at the University. It will be in one of the next stories.

I had a lot of fun from this first time. I hope you enjoyed reading. If you want to get other fun stories of my journey then you need to get updated…


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